UB Recreation shifts to intramural Esports

Despite the pandemic putting a damper on team sports, UB aims to utilize Esports to continue intramural activities

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The Spectrum

For college athletes who are not part of the Division I program at UB, intramural sports allow students to come together and compete in a wide array of sports. In recent semesters UB Recreation has offered team sports like soccer, basketball, flag football, floor hockey and volleyball.  Every weeknight the Ed Wright Practice Facility would be filled with students 

participating or spectating the nightly slate of intramural contests. This semester, similarly to varsity level sports, they are operating at a different capacity.

Students received an email on Aug. 21 saying team sports will not be offered this semester in response to the COVID pandemic. Students were also informed that although team sports will be left behind, the department will still offer individual sports like table tennis, badminton and darts but also various Esport options as well. Games like Madden 20, NBA2K 20, FIFA20 will all be available to play on Playstation or Xbox along with Rocket League which will additionally be available on PC and Nintendo Switch.

This is the first time UB has incorporated E-sports into their intramural schedule. 

The Spectrum contacted UB Associate Athletic Director for Recreation and Sport Management, Sharon Sanford, to discuss the switch to esports and the possible issues which may come with the new adoption. 

The Spectrum: What was behind the decision to continue recreation sports versus cancelling them this semester?

Sanford: “We wanted to continue to provide opportunities for students to compete and have fun. Knowing that our regular team sports would not likely be feasible to offer this semester, we pivoted to games (Table Tennis, Badminton, Darts, and Esports) that can be played while maintaining social distancing guidelines. We feel confident that we can provide those opportunities in a safe manner for all.”

TS: With Esports comes an endless list of possible issues. For example, poor network connection, faulty equipment, network being lost mid game, possible cheating/hacks. How did the rec department sort through these possible issues and how will they be handled if participants run into these issues?

S: For each week’s matchup, the players have six days to schedule themselves and play their match. If there are any problems with poor network connections or faulty equipment, they still have an opportunity to play a full match provided they don’t wait till the last minute to play. It’s not a perfect system, but it allows a good faith effort for a complete game to be played. In regards to cheating/hacking, with the exception of Rocket League, the games being offered are played on the PlayStation or Xbox consoles only. While it is possible to modify/hack a console, it is much, much harder to do than on a PC. Rocket League was something I wanted to offer since it’s a multi-platform game and will allow those that don’t have an Xbox or PlayStation the opportunity to play and the ability to cheat is low as well.

TS: During in person intramurals, sportsmanship was a very big factor in games with an almost zero tolerance policy for poor behavior. Teams would even be scored on how sportsmanlike they were by referees at the conclusion of games. With video games not being in person, many gamers experience "rage.” With microphones in use , how is the recreation department going to control those who use offensive language towards other players?

S: It is encouraged that no one uses a microphone during games. If a person chooses to use a microphone they are expected to be cautious of their sportsmanship. Any reports of trash talk or rude comments over the microphone will result in a suspension.

TS: When intramurals were in person, if a team was late to an event their team was penalized whether it was points or a forfeit. With nobody refereeing/mediating the virtual games, how will tardiness affect the match?

S: With the students scheduling their own matches, we expect that they will show up at the agreed time. All communication between players who are setting up matches will happen on IMLeagues, the website we use to facilitate intramurals. If there are any issues with people being able to agree to times or a student shows up late to a match they previously agreed to, intramural staff or myself will step in and help.

TS: How will in person intramurals be handled? Will masks be required for participants? Will they need to complete a wellness check?

S: In accordance with the University’s COVID-19 health and safety requirements, every participant will be required to wear a face mask at all times while being in Alumni Arena. Each person must also complete the Daily Health Check screening and be able to show their clearance for the day. Additionally, participants will also be asked a series of wellness questions before any match can be played. If any question is answered with an affirmative response, they will not be allowed to participate in intramural sports that day.

Each in-person intramural activity will have enough equipment for each participant so there will be no sharing of equipment with another person. Gloves and hand sanitizer will be available for people to utilize as well. At the conclusion of each match, all equipment will be cleaned and sanitized by Intramural staff.

Also, spectators will not be allowed to watch Intramural contests to discourage crowds and maintain social distancing.

TS:  Overall, what kind of feedback/participation has the new form of intramural sports received? Is there enough participation for them to go on, or is there a possibility of intramural sports being cancelled this semester?

S: The semester was constructed to have two separate sessions. The first session participation numbers have been very low, leading to a few intramurals being cancelled. We are hoping that more students will come out for the second session when it starts in mid-October.

TS: Is there a possibility for small tournaments during the year, for example 1v1 or 2v2 basketball?

S: With all of our offerings, we are making sure that we are following  Governor [Coumo’s] Interim Guidance for Sports and Recreation. Any small tournaments we may have will be required to follow those guidelines. At this time Basketball is still considered a high-risk activity. If/when the guidelines are updated in the future, we will re-evaluate our options.

TS: What can UB students expect in the coming weeks regarding intramural sports? And who can students reach out to with questions regarding intramurals?

S: “The first Intramural session is already underway this week with leagues in Badminton and Darts playing. Registration for the second session will open October 12th and end October 16th with play starting the week of October 19th. For more Intramural information, people can visit our website at http://www.buffalo.edu/recreation/services/intramural-sports.html or contact by email at dominico@buffalo.edu.”

Robby Salisbury is the assistant sports editor and can be reached at robby.salisbury@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @SalisburyRobby